SAIKANO (2002)

 

Format: 13 24-minute episodes on 4 DVDs

Rating: R (AC, GV)

Type: Tragic Romance (Sci-Fi)

American Production: Viz Video

English Dub Production: Robert Berke Sound?

Japanese Production: Toei Video, GONZO Digimation

 

Grading

 

Premise:

A-

Story:

A

Writing:

A

Character Design:

C

Animation:

B

Artistic Merits:

English Dub:

B+ 

Musical Score:

A-

Opener:

B+

Closer:

A

 

 

Humor Content:

n/a

Action Content:

B-

Drama Content:

A

 

 

DVD Presentation:

B

DVD Extras:

B

 

 

OVERALL:

A- 

 

Synopsis

      Shuji and Chise are high school seniors living on Hokkaido (the large island immediately north of the main island of Japan) during a devastating war against an unnamed foe, a war that has, so far, left his island in relative peace. As they fumble through the early stages of dating and falling in love, Shuji discovers a terrible secret: his short, cute, clumsy, weak girlfriend has been turned into an ultimate weapon! As Shuji struggles to cope with the reality that his girlfriend can obliterate entire cities and casually talk about having killed people, Chise struggles to retain any vestiges she can of her humanity, for her transformation into a weapon, even though she can still appear human, is a one-way trip. Can their budding love survive the stresses both normal and abnormal placed on their relationship? Does anything else really matter to them, even as the world seems to be coming to an end?

 

Quotes

 "When I think about it, I should have noticed back then. . . On that day, when I held Chise in my arms, I didn't feel her heart beat." (Shuji)

 

The Long View

      “Saikano” is a shortened nickname for Saishuu Heiki Kanojo, the full Japanese name for the series, which roughly translates as “She the Ultimate Weapon.” The shortened version is so commonly-used by Japanese fans and even series production personnel that Viz opted to use it for the official title for the American release, though the kanji for the full Japanese name is listed above it on the title screen and DVD covers. “The Last Love Song on This Little Planet” is both the motto and subtitle for the series, and it is a very appropriate one.

      Romantic stories where a school-aged boy has a super-powered girlfriend (whether because she’s an alien, goddess, android, or whatever) are so commonplace in anime that the basic concept for this series may seem trite. Saikano firmly separates itself from all other comparable concepts in two important ways: it treats its subject matter absolutely seriously, and it focuses in particular on how those “extra abilities” could be a distinct problem for the relationship of the two main characters. The result is a compelling, emotional, and often painfully frank look at two characters with deep insecurities trying to find a way to stay together despite the circumstances that would divide them. This is a series far less concerned with action sequences or showing off Chise’s incredible (and scary) powers than it is with the drama surrounding how Shuji can deal with his girlfriend casually talking about how she killed 20 men so quickly that they didn’t suffer, or Chise desperately grasping onto anything that can make her still feel human even though she really isn’t anymore. (Why does she not only tolerate, but actually appreciate, Shuji calling her “dummy” all the time? Because the fact that he’s concerned enough about her to make such a judgment reassures her.) It is a romantic series steeped in suffering, both of the emotional and physical nature, one where even major supporting characters can die messy and unheroic deaths. Some scenes will make the viewer cringe as they watch them, while others – especially the prolonged death scene of a major character in episode 9 – will drive many viewers to tears. And yet through it all love tries to endure, its irrationalities sometimes driving characters to decisions of questionable merit and propriety. Because of this, Saikano is widely-regarded both as one of the most depressing anime titles ever made and also as one of the most tragic.

      The writing and storytelling on Saikano is phenomenal, easily making it the best anime series of 2004 in both categories. The script is stocked with memorable lines and the dialogue sounds so natural that most viewers are likely to find something in the series that they can directly relate to. When Chise or one of the other characters cries, the tears seem right rather than just a contrivance. Both of the lead characters speak to their hearts and many of the supporting characters are more fully-realized and less stereotypical than one would normally expect for a 13-episode series. Among them you have Mrs. Fuyumi, a woman so desperately lonely while her husband is off to war that she treats Shuji as a surrogate for him; Akemi, the classic “old friend who wants to be a girlfriend but won’t admit it” who is willing to step aside to see to her friend Chise’s happiness instead; Atsushi, the young man who enlists with the stated goal of protecting the girl he loves, even though he knows she’s in love with his best friend; or Tetsu, a soldier (and Fuyumi’s husband) who befriends Chise and helps her cope even while his war experiences are making him increasingly cynical. The writer also wisely chose to avoid going into any real detail about the nature of the war, or what exactly was done to Chise to turn her into a weapon, or how exactly her powers work, because these are all details irrelevant to the love story that is the centerpiece of the series. This leaves some issues open to wide interpretation, such as the belief in some fan circles that the war is going on because of Chise’s existence as a weapon, rather than her existence being a response to the war. On this point, though, the writer is mum, so that’s just speculation. Keeping the story completely serious was also a wise move; the one time the series tries to be funny it seems intensely incongruous.

      If the artistry to Saikano were up to par with the writing then this would be, hands-down, the best series of the past few years. Sadly that is not the case. Character designs are decidedly mediocre, even unappealing, though the various aspects of Chise’s power in action are more impressive. Animation and supporting artwork are likewise nothing special, though neither is as bad as the character designs. The sound in the series fares considerably better, with a wonderful soundtrack buttressed on each end by a good opener and a stellar, melancholy number, each by Yuria Yato. The sound effect used when Chise is flying through the sky in the distance, appearing like a glowing pinkish dot, is also distinctive and noteworthy. The English dub is uneven but mostly exceptional. Although Mark Atherlay’s performance as Shuji is a bit flat, Melissa Hutchinson turns in one of the finest English vocal performances of the year in the role of Chise. The wobbly quality to her voice when speaking as Normal Chise hits just the right note, the emotions are convincing, and the effect when she suddenly steadies and makes her voice harsher for speaking as Weapon Chise is chilling. Most of the supporting roles are also done well, especially in moments when characters must speak in pain or desperation.

      Although there’s little true action in the series, the graphic content in Saikano can still be pretty strong. Several scenes are quite bloody or disturbing and some death scenes are as intense as they come. There’s no actual nudity in the series, nor would I call scenes where female characters show off undergarments to be true fan service, but there is still a considerable amount of sexually-oriented content and strong indications that one adult character engaged in what would be considered statutory rape here in the States. This is definitely not a series for younger viewers, hence the R rating, but I would still strongly recommend it for teen audiences – maybe 15 and up.

      Though depressing and tragic, Saikano is an outstanding series which ranks among the best of 2004. It isn’t for everyone, but even so I give it my top recommendation.

 

DVD Extras

      The first volume, which has four episodes, includes a bonus disk with several extras, while later volumes (which have only three episodes each) carry lesser amounts. Each DVD is headed with two or more promos, but there is no separate trailer option in the menus. AnimeDVDs used to commonly be set up that way, but that pattern has fallen out of favor in more recent releases so this is an odd throwback design.

Extras include:

·    Color Character Sheets/Production Art

·    Conversation With Voice Actors (vol. 1-3) – Each volume has one such conversation, generally around 12 minutes long, involving a pair of Japanese voice actors which I believe were taken from the original Japanese DVD releases.

·    Interview With Director and Producer (vol. 4)

·    Special Footage: Creator Interview (vol. 4)

·    Saikano TV Special (vol. 1) – A 24-minute long Japanese TV special (subbed only) which previews the series and talks with creators, production staff, and vocal talent.

·    Saikano Times (vol. 1) – A collection of 5 4-minute “News Corner” bits promoting the series. Don’t look for depth here. . .

·    Japanese TV Commericals (vol. 1)

 

 

Principle English Voice Actors

Role

Voice Actor

Chise

Melissa Hutchinson

Shuji

Mark Atherlay

Akemi

Amy Provenzano

Atsushi

Joe Wyka

Mrs. Fuyumi 

Elaine Clark? 

Tetsu

Abie Hadjitarkhani

Yukari

Nicole Emi

Nori

M.J. Reynolds

Kazu

Nikolas Shakoour

Shuji’s Mother

Elaine Clark*

Mr. Kawahara

David Arendash

Satomi

???

 

* - also the Voice Director

 

 

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